see you in court

Two teacher tenure lawsuits are combined, but not in harmony

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Mona Davids (left) is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging New York's job-protection laws for teachers.

Two lawsuits challenging teacher tenure in New York will be consolidated into one, a Staten Island court decided today — even though representatives from one case don’t seem very interested in working with the other.

Thursday marked the first court appearance since each suit was filed earlier this summer. The lawsuits claim that New York law makes it too difficult and costly to fire teachers who are ineffective or incompetent. They also take aim at the “last in, first out” policy which means districts lay off teachers based on seniority, and what they call a too-short period of time before a teacher is eligible for tenure.

Outside the court, Mona Davids, the lead plaintiff in the first case, Davids vs. New York, made it clear that she wasn’t interested in forging a unified effort as she passed out fake $100 bills bearing the grimacing face of Campbell Brown, the news-anchor-turned-activist who spearheaded the second lawsuit, Wright vs. New York.

“It’s our lawsuit,” Davids said. “We filed first.”

But inside the courtroom, Justice Phillip Minardo decided they were similar enough to combine, and neither lawsuit filed an opposition to the motion. He also decided to let the United Federation of Teachers intervene as a defendant, which will allow the city teachers union to take an active role in defending the current job protection rules. (Minardo deferred a decision about whether the state teachers union could intervene as well because of a paperwork issue.)

Tension between the two groups has been evident for months. However, in a statement, Brown said that their view “has always been the more parents, lawyers, and families supporting this effort, the better.” Campbell Brown was not present at the courthouse today, nor were any plaintiffs from the Wright case.

The lawyer who had signed onto Davids’ case, Randy Mastro of Gibson Dunn, the firm involved in the suit that recently struck down teacher tenure laws in California, has asked to be removed from the lawsuit altogether. The justice told him on Thursday to file a formal request.

Justice Minardo said he anticipated motions and counter-motions to be filed in the coming month, including the UFT’s stated plan to request a motion to dismiss the case. Filings need to be made by October 14.

“Work hard,” Minardo said. “Thirty days.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.